The Tesla Chronicles: 1. The App

Happy 2021 everyone. One of my resolutions is to write several Tesla posts relating “the good, the bad and the ugly” aspects of ownership. So, here goes. Let’s see how long THIS resolution lasts!

After you buy a Tesla, you simultaneously enter into a very intense relationship with your smartphone. Pre-purchase, I usually had a vague idea where my iPhone might be. Now, it is rarely out of my sight. Why? Because my iPhone is also my car key and the way to access all of the wonderful functions on the Tesla app. Check it out.

Yes, many cars allow you to remotely turn on your heat and air-conditioning. but can you also choose your desired temperature? Does it allow you to turn on the seat warmers? It only takes a swipe of “climate” to do both. Of course, you have to REMEMBER that function exists, which for me, is somewhat of a challenge.

Controls” allows you to flash your lights, blow the horn, remotely start the car, lock and unlock the doors, open the front and rear trunks, activate “sentry mode” (which turns on cameras so any activity around your car is captured on video). If by any chance you allow someone else to drive your car, you can limit the maximum speed limit and if you choose “valet mode“, you also prevent access to the glove box.

Charging” seems self explanatory, but it will be the subject of a future chronicle. (Bet you can’t wait)

Location” made me comfortable choosing a white car. My last three vehicles have all been red, because that is, by far, the very BEST color for finding a car in parking lots. (I have trouble localizing sound, so the noise button on many cars doesn’t help me much). Sadly, red Teslas cost $2,000 more, so I opted for the only color that didn’t increase the price. Because location shows you exactly where your car is at any time, that feature (and the inability to hot wire it) makes theft of your Tesla a bit challenging.

Those of us who didn’t pay extra for Full Self Driving (FSD), at time of purchase can change our mind at any time by swiping “Upgrades” and forking over an additional $10,000. FSD allows you to input your destination to let navigation take over. You literally can leave the driving to the car because FSD allows it to change lanes, exit highways, stop at traffic lights and stop signs- whatever is necessary to get you to where you want to go. It will even park itself upon arrival at your destination.

Let’s say when you arrive, the sun is shining but the weather takes a turn for the worse, and now the rain is coming down hard. No worries. With FSD, you can SUMMON the car to drive itself to pick you up. It might be worth $10,000 to see the expression on others’ faces as they watch the driverless car come rolling your way. Not to me, but I’ll bet there are others for whom it would be worth the $$$. As for me, I’m quite fine with the “less than full” self driving capabilities I currently have. If you think that might be the topic for another post, you could be right.

Another current upgrade: An acceleration boost. Instead of taking a whole 4.2 seconds to go from 0 to 60, for a mere $2,000, you can cut the time to 3.7 seconds. Who would care about half a second difference? Who would even notice? Certainly not members of MY demographic. I’m convinced, however, that there IS a particular demographic Tesla designers/engineers keep in mind. Hint: my son is definitely a member of their target market.

We still aren’t done with all of the app’s features. You can schedule “Service“, (another future topic) or call for “Road side assistance” (fortunately, so far I have no experience with THAT feature).

At the very bottom of the app is the odometer, the VIN and the software version. Yeah, here comes the BAD part. You can’t seesaw many miles you’ve driven unless you look at the app, or go through a screen or two on the “iPad looking thingie” in the car. Maybe it’s just me, but I LIKE being able to easily check how many miles I’ve gone.

Now let’s move to the TOP of the app. Tapping the gear box at the top left brings you to “Settings“, where you get emails and notifications about software updates (another future topic) from Tesla, access video guides, and synch your calendar.

The little arrow at the top performs the same function as location.

Finally, in the upper right hand corner are the wi-fi, internet and battery indicators, plus the “loot box”. The loot box is where your free supercharger miles show up whenever someone uses your referral link. If someone uses a referral link when they buy their Tesla, they also get 1,000 miles of free charging at a SuperCharger. If you happen to be in the market for a Tesla and don’t have a friend with a referral code, I’d be delighted to share mine. 

https://ts.la/shelley57380

So there is a whole lot of GOOD going on, but I promised Bad and Ugly so I’ll end with that: The BAD (and Ugly) is the supercharger miles expire. If you do most of your charging at home, which I do, then the only time you would use a supercharger is on a long trip. During Covid, there haven’t been many of those!

My First Mug Shot

At last.  I can finally check “have mug shot taken” off my bucket list.  So how did I happen to get in front of a police camera, holding a white board in front of my chest, with my name and date printed on it?  And was I able to smile?

I’ll answer the second question first:  Yes, I did indeed smile.  So, those of you who are mug shot experts will know from THAT answer that I didn’t get there by robbing a bank, committing arson or assaulting a president.  Because, as the officer/photographer explained to me, criminals aren’t allowed to smile.

And no, I wasn’t picked up for protesting (peacefully or otherwise).  Instead, I was there being fingerprinted and photographed because I offered to help out with the upcoming election’s mail in vote.  You see, I figured the very nice people working in the Board of Elections Office are going to be bombarded this November.  Not only that, but they are going to be subjected to all kinds of criticism, and speculation of misdeeds that will appear on Facebook as ‘fact”,  most likely posted by people who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them on the ass.

Caring deeply about our country, and recognizing how important voting is to our democracy, I figured it would be patriotic to help out.

In our area, at least, you have to be highly motivated to volunteer because after you fill out two forms,  you have to make an appointment for 7:30 PM at the county sheriff’s department to get your glamour shot and fingerprints done.  Of course, when I arrived at what I THOUGHT was the sheriff’s office, the building was locked up, and there was no one in sight.  But I am resourceful–I saw the next building had lights on, so I pressed the button to be admitted.  Once inside, I saw a young male counting out a huge wad of money, which I found to be interesting and slightly unusual, but eventually figured out it he was probably bailing someone out.  Yep, I was standing in the entry to the  county jail.  After further instructions and a phone call, I returned to the main building and eventually was let in to be “processed” by the very friendly and helpful officer.

The best part?  They no longer smear all that black gunk over your fingers to take your prints.  (I hated that) But that’s not all.   I also learned that because I am not (so far) a criminal, a teacher, an officer of the law, or a politician, my finger prints are not kept on file in some database.  Once  a background check is completed, your digits are deleted.  (I know, you’re probably thinking “what an educational and enlightening this post turned out to be”.  You’re welcome.)

Next step was completing the background check, which I imagined in addition to being bone jarringly boring — I was FAR more intriguing during my college days — included a glance at my voting record.  I had been asked whether I was able to be non-partisan, and although I CLEARLY have strong opinions about the current administration, that is probably true of 95% of the American population.  (The other 5% is most likely in a coma.) Still, I can put my feelings aside to do a job professionally and ethically.  Out of curiosity, however, I looked on line at my voting record and was surprised to see that I had registered as a Republican three times, as a Democrat four times and as an independent TWENTY EIGHT times for the last thirty five elections I’ve voted in.

So, after all that, what has my volunteer work entailed?  So far I have completed two days on the job.  The first day I spent detaching the signature “flap” from the sealed envelope containing the ballot.  This protects the confidentiality of the vote.   The next day,  I took ballots (from a different city) out of envelopes and inspected them to make sure they could be processed by machine.  If not, then I put them aside to be hand counted and I completed a tally sheet to ensure that all ballots (and envelopes) are accounted for.  The ballots are kept by voting district to be machine counted, and the flaps and envelopes are retained, in case there are any questions down the road.

I’m glad that New Jersey is able to start the process 10 days before Election Day, because there is a lot of work involved.  I was impressed by the multiple checks and counts to ensure that all ballots are protected.  People are working hard to make this election a successful and fair process.  Plus,  I’m gaining additional respect for those who do repetitive, manual labor. Let me tell you, it takes its toll–at least it has on me!

Confessions of a Tes-Lover

In late February, when I wrote my post about ordering my Tesla 3, the world was a different place. Although we vaguely knew there was something going on in China, back then, it didn’t seem like it was going to have much of an impact on us.

Boy were WE wrong.

There are plenty of posts, news items, tweets about the Coronavirus already, so no need to say more. Instead let’s focus on the positive: My induction into the Tesla Lovers’ Club. (Cult? Club?? You be the judge.)

As of today, I have owned my Tesla for one whole month. When I picked it up, my plan was to drive it short distances for a week, get used to its differences and features, then take it for its first long journey: a trip to Massachusetts and back, to visit my family. I had every intention of describing my experience of recharging on the road.

That plan, along with MANY other plans, went poof. Still, there is no shortage of things to say about my new “hot wheels”. Here are some things I have learned, after driving a total of 356 miles (but who’s counting?).

Things I Didn’t Know Before I Ordered
*There is no spare tire. If you have a flat, you call Tesla Roadside Assistance, which is available without charge for the duration of your warranty — 4 years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, and at the rate I’m going, we know which one it will be. The Tesla shop sells two different tire repair kits ($25 or $80). I’ve got 4 years to determine whether or not I need to have a do-it yourself option stored on board.

*When your car gets dirty, you have to find either a “touchless” car wash to protect the sensors and cameras, or you’ll be hand washing the exterior yourself. No problem yet. It’s hard to get a car dirty when it spends its days sitting in the garage.

*My (no longer owned) Prius and my husband’s Camry both had built in garage door openers. That feature is not included with the Tesla, but it can be purchased for an additional $300. Even if you purchase it in advance, however, “HomeLink” is not installed when you pick the car up. The good news–when I finally get HomeLink (because I DID buy it)–the garage door will know I’m arriving (or departing) and will automatically open (or close) for me. The side mirrors will fold in, giving me additional space on either side of the garage. I’m sure I’ll appreciate this feature even more when I’m in my 80’s. Let’s hope Homelink gets installed before then.

*Your smart phone functions as your car key, plus you receive a credit card sized back up “key” in case your battery dies. You can also purchase a key fob for $150. So far, the phone has been working just fine for me. I feel like I’m going through a second adolescence, though. My phone has almost become a part of my body. These days, I need to know where my phone actually IS, because you can do so many Tesla functions remotely, using it.

Starting Out
The interior looks VERY different from every car I ever owned. If you’ve never been inside a Tesla, here’s what awaits you. Instead of the usual dashboard, Teslas have a touchscreen that looks very much like an iPad. (Oh yeah, you can buy a charging pad, so you don’t have to have your charger sticking up on the console. )

The glove compartment includes two manuals: one with safety information, and one on the proper way to be towed, should the need arise. What it did NOT have was what one (“one” in this case being ME) would consider a standard user’s manual. Instead, the manual is “on line”, accessed by pressing the Tesla logo on the top of your touch screen.

If you long for the comfort of those printed pages, you can always download a manual from the internet and print the 230 pages yourself.
I was okay with reading it on-line. And that is what I did, for the five weeks between ordering and delivery. I was like a new mom, awaiting the delivery of her first born, preparing by reading everything available. I must confess, I was almost as excited about THIS delivery as the birth one, plus it was a whole lot less painful, but equally expensive.

What was NOT clear from the manual was how many “self driving” features were included with my long distance model 3, versus the $7,000 upgrade package. Let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised that I have more features than I expected, which means there were just enough to only mildly terrify me. Of course, you can operate it without activating any of the self driving features, but what fun would THAT be? Here’s a cool example: if I have Assisted Cruise Control activated, and am stopped behind a car at a red light, when THAT car goes, so does my Tesla, without my having to put my foot on the accelerator. Was I surprised the first time that happened? Hell ya.

The Learning Curve
Almost EVERYTHING in a Tesla is different: Opening the car doors, working the radio, adjusting the heat and side mirrors, opening the glove compartment, using–or not using –the brakes, stopping the car from “farting” after you activate that fun feature…

Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at the recessed door handle. It took me a while to coordinate the “press and pull” maneuver.

And once you’re inside? How do you get OUT? Take a look. Can you find the handle? If you figured out you press that single button on the top of the door, you’re smarter than I. Of course, the flash on my iPhone helped by making the interior look grey. It is actually black, so locating that little button was a bit of a challenge for me– a challenge that I am proud to say I have since mastered.

Almost everything else is controlled by the touch screen to the right of the steering wheel. Some functions can be accessed directly, but others are hidden behind drop down menus. As with everything else, once you learn the menu options, it’s easy. But imagine if you haven’t driven for a while, perhaps because you have been “sheltering in place” for three weeks. What do you think might happen? If you’re like me, your right back well below the midpoint of that learning curve.

Still, it only takes a little practice. Like using the brakes. Or NOT using the brakes, because you don’t have to very often. You just take your foot off what I used to think of as the “gas pedal” and if you had been going slowly, you stop. Right away. If you were whipping along at a nice clip, you slow down a little more gradually. But most of the time you stop without braking at all. As you are slowing down, you are also recharging the battery.

Okay, so I’ve held you in suspense long enough. The farting? All Teslas come with something called “Easter Eggs”. These are little toys that I’ll bet the engineers had great fun creating. Our son, during his elementary school years thought that whoopee cushions were the funniest thing ever. Clearly, so do some of the Tesla engineers, because one of the “Easter Eggs” gets the car to sound like a passenger has eaten three cans of beans. Being the mature adult that I am, I felt compelled to demonstrate this particular feature to a friend. That’s when I discovered how difficult it was to make it stop! But enough of the bathroom humor.

Bottom Line
I LOVE my Tesla. I love that software updates regularly occur over wifi. I love the smooth ride, the amazing acceleration, the ability to warm (and cool) it remotely via my iPhone, the security features, the entertainment options, the maps directing you to charging stations, the list goes on and on. I am looking forward to the day when I can actually GO someplace with it.

Stay safe and sane everyone, and remember all of those who are working every day under very stressful conditions, providing medical care and essential services to us all. Love and virtual hugs all around.

To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Car Buyer or Cult Member?

Am I having a midlife crisis? Or did I just join a cult? I’m way too old for either, but here we are.

I feel like I have done the car buying equivalent of bungee jumping, except I haven’t jumped YET. I’ve been strapped in, led to the edge, and am waiting to either jump or be pushed. My emotions keep swinging from exhilaration to terror. What have I done? The bigger question: Does every future Tesla owner go through this while awaiting delivery?

First, let me say that although I am still in shock that a car can cost almost as much as our first house, I didn’t buy one of the super expensive Teslas. And our little first house, bought decades ago, was in Ohio, a much cheaper area of the country. Still, for someone who views a car solely as a means of transportation, it’s a LOT of money, even for the Tesla 3, which is the least expensive model. (I DID spring for the mid priced 3–the one with the battery that lets you go a longer distance. The top of the line, the Performance 3 is DEFINITELY for those with a need for speed.)

So, how did this happen? How did a non-car aficionado end up ordering a cool set of wheels? Simple. My son guilted me. He took the number of miles that I drove last year plus the amount that I spent on gasoline, and converted it into how much carbon I released into the atmosphere. Not as much as most, because for the last 11 years, I’ve driven a Prius. Even so, he calculated that in 2019, I was responsible for one TON of emissions. He’s an electrical engineer, so the odds are good that his calculation was accurate. But then again, he knows I don’t have the skills needed to check his math.

He knows my vulnerabilities. I am passionate about protecting the environment. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags (including reusable produce bags). I recycle, reuse and refrain whenever I can to minimize my carbon footprint. Because I love to travel, I figure I need to do whatever I can to offset my the carbon from the flights I take.

I also really liked the Tesla’s safety features, such as blind spot monitoring, and assisted cruise control. For an additional $7,000, I could have had the self driving feature. I didn’t get it, and not just because of the cost. Quite honestly, when I tried it out, I was terrified. What is REALLY cool, however, is that all of Tesla’s model 3’s (built after 10/2016) have all of the sensors, cameras and radar needed for self driving already built in. Should I become comfortable enough to add that feature in the future, all I have to do is pay for it, then download the software via wifi. And that’s another cool thing: Tesla updates the software regularly, so once you own a Tesla, you benefit from the updates that flow over your wifi network. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Only time will tell.

But back to those safety features. Even if you don’t spring for the super duper self driving feature, you still get “auto pilot”. If you are like me, and get into your zen mode while listening to the radio, you know that sometimes your foot gets heavy and you lose track of space and time – or maybe just the speed at which you are traveling. Am I right? Auto Pilot KNOWS the speed limits of the road you are zipping along, and will limit you to a number that you choose ( like +5 MPH over the limit). You can override the limit, but usually my problem comes from going too fast, not too slow.

Anyway, I am 4 days away from picking up the car that I ordered 5 weeks ago. What have I done while waiting? I’ve been reading the manual. Mike has been busy too. He oversaw turning our garage into a charging station. His mission was accomplished today.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out on the Tesla Message Boards. I wanted to find out things like, does it get hot in the car because of the glass roof? Approximately how far can you go on 1 Kilowatt of electricity? (And is it a Kilowatt or a Kilowatt hour? ) How much does it cost to use a Tesla Supercharger? Stuff like that. Instead I found posts like this one, chosen at random and cut and pasted:

I have a pair of Model S non-P caliper in my garage just for that purpose. However, I’m on the fence about it once I did more research. The big gain for the RB S caliper option is the increase thermal capacity of the larger and thicker rotor. On the other hand, the P3D pad is slightly larger than S pad. And there are already a number of track oriented pad on the market for P3D. Whereas the S pad is available in street pad only, the only other car that uses the same pad shape is Chevy Cruise econobox.

Did it scare me. You bet. Even though I am generally fluent in English, I had no bloody idea what that post was about! But then I realized that many of the Tesla buyers are engineers or car enthusiasts — most likely both. I am neither. I’ll stick to reading the manual. And keep my fingers crossed. Four more days, but who’s counting.